DVD Review: London Calling Live In Hyde Park
Reviewed by Glenn McDonald
Highly anticipated by fans of The Boss, and those who track high-profile concert DVDs generally, the new release from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is a hot and sweaty rock ‘n’ roll spectacle, just in time for summer in the city.
London Calling Live In Hyde Park documents the band’s showcase last summer in London’s central public green space – the equivalent of New York City’s Central Park. Even by big event standards, this is an oversized gig — the London crowd stretches on for what seems like miles, and Bruce and the band are clearly in outdoor festival mode.
Mr. Springsteen is legendary, of course, for outsized concert events, and his stamina as a performer is ridiculous. Three-hour concerts are the norm for the E Street crew, and they don’t disappoint here – the 2-DVD set clocks in at just under 180 minutes, counting the included pair of extra tracks (“The River” from the previous night’s warm-up gig, and the music video for “Wrecking Ball.”)
In fact, the show outlasts the sun, beginning in broad daylight and proceeding through a gorgeous sunset at Hyde Park. As the last numbers wind down in the blue glow of London twilight, it becomes clear that this is a genius move on the part of the producers. Mother Nature provides a better light show that any team of technicians could have wired.
Springsteen kicks off the show with a relatively faithful cover of the Clash’s immortal call-to-arms “London Calling.” Pulling at the song’s insistent, staccato chords, Springsteen gives early notice that he’s not horsing around. It’s an odd sight to see Springsteen signing those famous lines about nuclear errors and London drowning, but it works. If he can’t quite match the snarling intensity of Joe Strummer’s original vocals — well, he very nearly does, and that counts for something.
The set list from here bounces all around, with numbers going back to the Born to Run era all the way up through the latest album, Working on a Dream. Besides the opening Clash number, Bruce peppers in a few more covers, including “Good Lovin’,” Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped,” and the traditional ballad “Hard Times (Come Again No More).”
Highlights abound. On “Youngstown,” Bruce evokes his trademark vibe of sepia-toned Americana, and it makes you think: It’s kind of nice to have these guys in Europe, doing their thing. On balance, it’s fair to say that Springsteen is one of our very best cultural ambassadors of the last several decades. Later in the show, when he digs into the nostalgic “Glory Days,” the feeling comes again: This is the image of America we would like to be exporting, instead of wars and oil spills and whatever bobblehead tweenage pop stars Hollywood is pushing this season.
In his jeans and work shirt (with the sleeves rolled up, of course), Springsteen sells the common-man thing like no one else. He may also be the only blue-collar guy that can wear a soul patch convincingly. Cynics sometimes point to his overall image as shtick
, but I’m not buying.
When Springsteen dons a cowboy hat for “Outlaw Pete,” and kneels down to relate to the crowd in a raspy voice, you remember what a surpassing storyteller and flat-out showman he is. Nice, too, that in quieter moments like these, the terrific audio brings out every nuance of the accompanying musicians (in this case, Soozie Tyrell on violin). Audio overall is superlative, and is presented in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound or PCM Stereo.
The stage setup is designed to accommodate such moments, projecting to the back seats while still providing some intimacy. The high platform main stage connects via a set of steps to a catwalk skirting the front rows. At one point, Springsteen comes down to the catwalk and gathers all the signs of song requests from the crowd.
Springsteen talks about this evolving tradition at his shows in an interview on the promotional trailer for the DVD.
“Somewhere along the line, the fans got the idea that if they brought their signs, they were going to have a higher lobbying potential to hear their songs of choice,” he says. “For us, it becomes like “Stump the Band.” It tests the E Street archives a little, you know.”
|Watch exclusive video of “Out in the
Sure enough, about halfway through the set Springsteen gathers the stack of requests and puts them on stage. As the show progresses, he grabs a song title off the stack — “Bobby Jean” — and cues the band by literally waving the sign at them. It adds a nice sense of spontaneity to the proceedings.
Other of Springsteen’s dusty rock moves are less engaging. I understand some stage antics are so traditional there’s no point in fighting them, but I feel like I’ve been watching Springsteen and sidekick Stevie Van Zandt share a microphone for most of my adult life. Can’t we all pitch in and get Stevie his own mic?
All the other E Street regulars are on hand as well, including Nils Lofgren on guitar and Max Weinberg on drums. And of course few sounds in creation are as instantly recognizable as Clarence Clemons’ saxophone.
And now, a word about sweat. According to accounts from attendees, it was a particularly warm summer evening when they filmed this show in London. Springsteen has huge circles under his arms by the middle of the second song, “Badlands.” By the time he’s in “Youngstown,” halfway though the first set, he’s thoroughly drenched and literally flinging perspiration with every strum. It’s amazing, really. Dude is 60 years old!
Bruce isn’t afraid to make the occasional joke at the expense of his veteran status, either. At one point, he pretends to collapse coming up those steps. And check out his farewell shout-out to the crowd. Which of these items is not like the others?
“London! You’ve just seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-shocking, booty-shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, history-making, legendary E Street Band!”
No two ways about it; Springsteen knows how to work a crowd. In what may be the show’s most powerful moment, he goes into preacher man mode, pacing the stage as he promises to build — for a couple hours at least, here in Hyde Park —”a house of hope and joy in a world of fear and despair.” As the band vamps behind him, Revered Bruce delivers the good word: “We’re going to bring down the power of music on ya!”
It’s heartening somehow to hear the power of rock so earnestly invoked, seeing as we’re near 50 years past from the high tide of the 1960s. Since that moment when, as Hunter Thompson so devastatingly put it, “the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Well, take heart, brethren. The Boss, at least, is still doing what he can.
1. London Calling
4. She’s The One
5. Outlaw Pete
6. Out In The Street
7. Working On A Dream
9. Johnny 99
11. Good Lovin’
12. Bobby Jean
14. No Surrender
15. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
16. The Promised Land
17. Racing In The Street
18. Radio Nowhere
19. Lonesome Day
20. The Rising
21. Born To Run
22. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
23. Hard Times (Come Again No More)
25. American Land
26. Glory Days
27. Dancing In The Dark
28. Credits (Raise Your Hand)Raise Your Hand (Instrumental)
29. The River (Glastonbury)
30. Wrecking Ball (Live at Giants Stadium)